Last week I reviewed the trade paperback of Whiteout, and I found it artistically interesting, although the story was a little weak: the mystery was not that complex, and the protagonist was not developed as fully as she could be because of the attention given to a supporting character. Still, it was a decent book, worthy of your time if you wanted something not from the Big Two comic companies or not superheroes.
I’m happy to say the movie version of Whiteout is better than the book. It sticks with the same formula: scientists murdered in the Antarctic, with a U.S. marshal investigating. Stetko, the marshal, is more fully rounded than in the comic version, and the investigation takes one or two more side treks than its inspiration. The movie made Antarctica more menacing than the comic as well; every time the protagonists left base, it was certain that something awful would happen to them. The cold bled through the screen into the theater, although the air conditioning at my theater might have had something to do with that.
Whiteout has received negative reviews, mostly because critics felt the mystery wasn’t all that strong (I can’t blame them) or the thriller aspects were weak (which I disagree with). Still, the final fight scene is not all that exciting, despite it being a duel with pistols and icepicks in a blizzard. The fighters have to be attached to a rope (they can’t see where they’re going, so the rope is the only way they can find their way from one building to another), but the ropes aren’t threatened enough, and it was difficult to tell the combatants from each other. Plus, you know, it’s supposed to be whiteout conditions. Part of me wished they had the guts to put up a pure white screen with a soundtrack.
But what really concerns me — what always concerns me about comic book movies — is how it differentiates from the source material. Now you get to know too:
In the comic: Stetko is a widow exiled to Antarctica by the U.S. Marshal’s Service after she snapped the neck of an escaped prisoner who had surrendered. She takes no guff from anyone, and she probably is the most intimidating person in Antarctica.
Also: Stetko is short, freckled, and looks a little dumpy in her winter gear.
In the movie: Stetko is a U.S. marshal who takes a post in Antarctica after her partner sold her out. He let a prisoner free to kill her, but she subdued the prisoner and killed her partner when he tried to shoot her. She’s more diplomatic than the comic version, and even though she has a gun when she first encounters the killer, she runs like a frightened girl into the cold instead of fighting back.
Also: Kate Beckinsale never looks dumpy, not even in heavy winter gear.
Stetko’s boss: In the comic: Brett McEwan, who’s always insulting and putting pressure on Stetko to not screw up this case.
In the movie: Who knows? Stetko’s autonomous, baby.
The McGuffin In the comic: Gold, found by researchers taking random mineral samples.
In the movie: Diamonds found by the Russians in Antarctica but lost when the plane carrying them crashed after the pilots got greedy and tried to steal them. See? Foreigners can’t be trusted!
The secret agent: In the comic: Lily Sharpe, a British secret agent who’s even more hard-nosed than Stetko and a good deal taller.
In the movie: U.N. “operative” Robert Pryce, who knows more about the situation than Stetko at the beginning, but he works for the U.N., so eventually she walks all over him. I think it’s clear the moviemakers didn’t want to burden American audiences’ minds with the thought that Antarctica is open to all nations; they took everyone foreign (except the pilot, Haden) and converted them into Americans. You might argue the U.N. adds a multinational tinge to things, but it’s the U.N.: all good Americans know they’re toothless and useless.
Pryce is played by Gabriel Macht; you may remember Macht from the title role in the horrible The Spirit. He looks nothing like that in Whiteout, thank God. I need no reminders of that movie ever.
The conspiring scientists: In the comic: Five men from four different countries.
In the movie: Three Americans. Because American audience don’t want no damn foreign science.
Doc: In the comic: Bald, fat, bearded, and named “Furry.”
In the movie: Bearded, played by Tom Skerritt, and named “Fury.” Since he’s American already, he doesn’t need to be changed.
Delfy: In the comic: An old hand at flying in Antarctica, Delfy is an African-American and Stetko’s most trusted pilot.
In the movie: A young Iraq veteran in his first year flying in Antarctica. He’s still African-American, though.
Haden: In the comic: An Australian pilot introduced about halfway through to be suspicious.
In the movie: An Australian pilot introduced cleverly at the beginning of the film to look like a background character.
Guns: In the comic: According to Stetko, firearms are outlawed by treaty in Antarctica, although Sharpe carries one around. Guns can be expected to malfunction after short exposure to the extreme cold.
In the movie: Stetko always carries her pistol with her. The guns never fail, as rarely as they are used.
The eponymous whiteout: In the comic: During Stetko’s accident, which happens at the end of issue #1 and beginning of #2.
In the movie: Climactic final fight scene!
The fingers: In the comic: Gone.
In the movie: Gone, although a long time passes between exposure and revelation. We see the character deal with the loss as well, although if only he / she had kept his / her gloves on …
The weather: In the comic: Other the single whiteout and the cold, not really a factor.
In the movie: A huge storm is about to hit the base, causing an early winter evacuation (and a deadline to solve the mystery).
The bases: In the comic: Amundson-Scott (U.S., at the South Pole), McMurdo (U.S.), and Victoria (U.K.)
In the movie: Amundson-Scott and the deserted Vostok (Russian). I repeat: None of that damn foreign science. It’ll give you the socialism. Listening to Russian music in a deserted Russian station is bad enough.